Zimbabwe to seek more AIDS help as politics weighs

Zimbabwe and U.N. agencies will ask donors for at least $40 million for HIV/AIDS programmes between 2006-7, hoping to speed funding that officials charge is being blocked by hostility to President Robert Mugabe.

A UNAIDS official said on Friday the new funding request was no guarantee Zimbabwe would get the cash it needs to fight an epidemic estimated to infect about a quarter of the adult population.

“We are looking at $20 million in 2006 and another $20 million in 2007. But as you know some donors have stopped programmes in Zimbabwe and so it will be difficult,” Karl-Lorenz Dehne, the Zimbabwe head of U.N. agency UNAIDS, told Reuters.

Dehne said the U.N had provided $12 million for AIDS programmes in Zimbabwe this year.

Official figures show 24.6 percent of Zimbabwe’s adult population is infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS, one of the highest rates in the world.

UNICEF says a child in the southern Africa nation succumbs to the pandemic every five minutes.

But global donors have not opened up their purses to help fight the disease in a country facing economic turmoil which critics blame on Mugabe’s government.

Health Minister David Parirenyatwa on Friday said world response to Zimbabwe’s HIV/AIDS crisis had been “politicised” by Western opponents of Mugabe, who Western countries have accused of repeatedly rigging elections and suppressing human rights.

“We simply do not have enough resources in the country,” Parirenyatwa told an HIV/AIDS conference in Harare. “I am convinced that HIV has been politicised ... Zimbabwe does not feel too good that HIV has been put on a political agenda.”

COMPOUNDING THE CRISIS

AIDS has compounded the woes of Zimbabweans grappling with the worst economic crisis in decades, shown in shortages of foreign currency, fuel and food, high inflation and unemployment, and collapsing health services.

Mariyawanda Nzuwa, head of the public service commission responsible for government employees, said on Friday security forces were at a high risk of contracting the virus.

“It is pointless to talk about HIV and AIDS in the public service without talking the defence forces, the prison services and the police,” said Nzuwa at the launch of an HIV/AIDS policy for civil servants.

“Given the nature of the security forces, they are likely to be affected by the pandemic a lot faster than (other) civil servants,” he said without elaborating. There are no HIV/AIDS figures on government workers or state security agents.

Despite the gloom, there was some positive news on Friday as researchers reported preliminary figures indicating HIV prevalence among pregnant women visiting Zimbabwe’s birth clinics - a key marker of the disease - may be levelling off or even declining.

Agnes Mahomva, an official with the Health Ministry, said a 2004 study showed overall prevalence among the women had dropped to 21.3 percent from more than 32 percent recorded in 2000.

She cautioned, however, that it was too early to say if the decline could be attributed to behaviour change, as AIDS workers hope, or other factors such as improved data collection.

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: July 9, 2011
Last revised: by David A. Scott, M.D.